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Friday, January 03, 2003

Mark W. Davis

The man, the myth, the legend.

The Keltner List is a set of 15 questions posed by Bill James in an effort to determine whether a player is deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Here we’ll examine each of these questions as they pertain to one of the players on the 2003 ballot, LHP Mark Davis.

1.  Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No. Not close.

2.  Was he the best player on his team?

Davis probably was the Padres’ best pitcher in 1988 (he secured 19 win shares; Eric Show placed second among pitchers, with 14); only Tony Gwynn (23) and Roberto Alomar (22) earned more win shares that season. In 1989, the year Davis won the Cy Young Award, Jack Clark was the Padres’ best hitter (149 OPS+ in just under 600 PA), while Davis ranked with Bruce Hurst (130 ERA+ in 245 IP) and Ed Whitson (132 ERA+ in 227 IP) as the best pitchers. Beyond those two seasons, Davis wasn’t close to being the best player on his team.

3.  Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Even in 1989, when he won the Cy Young Award, Davis may not have been the best reliever in the National League. Houston’s Larry Andersen had a better ERA+ (221 to Davis’ 190) in four fewer innings. The Dodgers’ Jay Howell also had a better ERA+ (217), albeit in 13 fewer innings. Even the likes of Les Lancaster and Bill Landrum had comparable seasons. Davis probably was the best left-handed reliever that year.

4.  Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Davis spent parts of four seasons on eventual pennant winners (1980 Phillies, 1987 Giants, 1992 Braves, 1993 Phillies). He worked a total of 127 innings for those four clubs and never made a post-season appearance. The 1989 Padres finished second in the NL West. That was the only year Davis pitched an entire season for a team that finished higher than third. It’s safe to say he had minimal impact on any pennant races.

5.  Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

No. After winning the Cy Young Award in 1989, Davis signed a huge contract with the Royals and basically flamed out by age 33 (although he did make 19 appearances for the Brewers in 1997 at age 36). The last time Davis had an ERA better than league average was 1989, at age 28.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Not close. The list of players better than Davis who aren’t in the Hall of Fame is too long to be meaningful.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No. The 10 most similar pitchers to Mark Davis are Bruce Ruffin, Jim Gott, Norm Charlton, Matt Young, Andy Hassler, Terry Forster, Turk Lown, Mark Guthrie, Craig Lefferts, and Tom Hume.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

No. According to the HOF Standards test, Davis scores 5 points (average HOFer ~50); according to the HOF Monitor, he scores 26 (likely HOFer > 100).

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

At first I thought not. Although Davis’ best seasons came while he called Jack Murphy Stadium home, the park was pretty much neutral in 1988 and 1989. Davis spent most of his career pitching in environments that had minimal park factors. However, on closer inspection, here are his home/road splits while a member of the Padres (courtesy of Retrosheet):

          Home       Road
        IP   ERA   IP   ERA
1987   31.2 0.85  30.2 5.58
1988   48.0 0.94  50.1 3.04
1989   46.0 1.17  46.2 2.51

Contrast this with his splits while a member of the Giants:

          Home       Road
        IP   ERA   IP   ERA
1983   57.2 3.75  53.1 3.21
1984   92.1 4.97  82.1 5.79
1985   53.1 3.71  61.0 3.39
1986   39.2 2.50  44.2 3.43
1987   31.1 5.17  39.1 4.35

No real discernible pattern here.

So it’s not just that Davis pitched better at home, it’s that he pitched better in San Diego. Davis clearly benefitted from pitching at Jack Murphy Stadium well above and beyond what might reasonably be expected. Given his lack of similar advantage when he called Candlestick home, it’s reasonable to at least hypothesize that Davis never would have had his two big seasons were it not for Jack Murphy Stadium.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

No. Not close. The best LHP eligible for the HOF are Jim Kaat and Tommy John; both had much, much more distinguished careers. Among left-handers who spent the bulk of their careers as relievers, Davis is behind a long line of pitchers, including Sparky Lyle and Tug McGraw, among many others.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

One. Maybe. In 1989, Davis did finish sixth in the MVP voting.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Davis made two All-Star teams: in 1988 and 1989. The vast majority of players who have been in just two All-Star games are not in the Hall of Fame.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

No. Even in his best seasons, Davis pitched fewer than 100 innings.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Davis demonstrated, as others have before and since, the folly of signing a journeyman pitcher to a long-term contract worth lots of money on the basis of two good seasons. Of course, teams still do this kind of thing on a fairly regular basis, so he didn’t really change the game.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

I could find no examples of conduct by Davis that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

Summary

Mark Davis posted an ERA better than the league average in just 4 of his 15 big-league seasons. Only twice did he have an ERA+ greater than 120. Although those two seasons made Davis a wealthy individual, they account for a grand total of 191 innings. For his career, Davis’ ERA+ was 89. He won just 51 games against 84 losses (.378 WL%), and notched 96 saves. Bearing in mind that reaching the big leagues and pitching 624 games at that level is quite an accomplishment in itself, Davis is about as far from Hall of Fame worthy as someone on the ballot can be.

 

Geoff Young Posted: January 03, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. tangotiger Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607987)
Good article.

As an addendum, here are the LI and PA numbers for the relievers cited in 1989:
Davis: 1.92 , 370
Howell: 1.88 , 312
Anderson: 1.15, 351

   2. Daryn Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607992)
Mark Davis is important for the reason cited in #14. Perhaps more than any player in history, he exemplifies the foolishness of signing a player to a big bucks contract after one great season. I will never forget that lesson after his complete flameout in 1990 and whenever I think of chris hammond or alan embree or any newly proclaimed PROVEN CLOSER, I think of Davis.
   3. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607993)
Gee, Geoff, when you said, "If you think [Sid] Fernandez is questionable, wait till you see the other guy I wrote about. ;-) " you weren't kidding. I know you're new to the B' staff; is this some kind of rookie hazing they're putting you through?

Seriously, despite all that happened later, I have fond memories of Mark Davis from the 1989 pennant race. If only for a year or two, he was high-leverage, low-ERA, and a thrill to watch. I remember watching him close out games at the Murph and then hanging around to watch the end of the Giants-whoever game on the Diamondvision.

Davis is no HOFer, but that counts for something.
   4. Geoff Young Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607996)
Tango: Thanks for adding further context to Davis' 1989 season.

Brad: The reason for running a Keltner list on Davis is twofold. First, it gives us an opportunity to examine a player who enjoyed a long career in ways that we may never again do. Personally I found it interesting to note his extreme home/road splits while pitching in San Diego. Second, and more importantly, running a Keltner list on a guy like Davis, who intuitively isn't a HOFer, helps validate the list as a tool. If we're pretty darned sure that Davis doesn't belong in the HOF and the Keltner list confirms this, then it has done an effective job in this case. Davis, in his way, is a point in favor of the Keltner list. Not a very subtle point, but a point nonetheless.

Daryn: Agreed. Amazing that some teams still haven't learned.

Fracas: No rookie hazing. Believe it or not, I chose Davis. Someone's gotta stand up for the Padres. :-)

Thanks, all, for the comments....
   5. Geoff Young Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607999)
Randy Jones (courtesy of Retrosheet):

IP H HR BB SO ERA
1975
home 165.2 133 6 32 57 1.68
away 119.1 109 11 24 46 3.02

1976
home 171.1 127 4 23 43 1.89
away 144.0 147 11 27 50 3.75

Check out those hit and homer totals. I'd say the Murph helped him quite a bit.
   6. Geoff Young Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#608001)
Oops, sorry about the formatting. Jones pitched a lot better at home than on the road in 1975 and 1976. Here are links:

1975: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/Ljoner10103.htm

1976: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/Ljoner10104.htm
   7. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 03, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#608005)
San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium has an odd history of park factors, due to the additions of the inner fence, the scoreboard and then the near-total enclosure of the seating bowl. During the same period, the composition of the league and division has changed pretty dramatically. Both NL expansion franchises joined the NL West, one with an extreme park factor which makes all other parks appear more pitcher-friendly than they are in an absolute sense.

Looking at its park factors chronologically is not an intuitive experience, but since the latest expansion it's been as pitcher-friendly as Dodger Stadium and Pac Bell, which is fairly extreme.
   8. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 04, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#608007)
Of all the candidates discussed here at the Primer, Davis is easily the worst so far. I second DaveF's comment that he shouldn't get a single vote.
   9. There are no words... (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: January 08, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#608207)

I wait with baited breath the Keltner List for Danny Tartabull...

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